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By mid-May of 2011, my camp site on Lake Santeetlah had been attacked at night several times by small groups of local patriots carrying baseball bats. Apparently, they wanted to drive the supposed sexual predator-crazy man with three dogs out of the county. Then one night about 1:30 AM a long line of pickups was headed toward my campsite. There were far too many patriots coming for me to fight off.
I threw my rifle and sleeping bag in the car, screaming at the dogs to jump in. We took a loop road around the convoy just as they arrived at the campsite. I drove south out of Graham County on Tallulah Road then turned left on US 19-74 in Topton. I headed into the Nantahala Gorge where I knew there would be campsites and civilized human beings.
There was fog that night in the gorge. The visibility was almost as bad as on the Cherohala Skyway. All the visible campsites were filled. I turned onto a side road and pulled into a graveled space next to a noisy mountain stream. We spent the night in the back of the Explorer.
I was awakened the next morning by a woman standing near my Explorer. She was amazingly polite considering that I had unknowingly pulled into a commercial campground without paying. It was the Lost Mine Campground. The woman was the owner.
When I went into her office to pay her, I asked the woman how her campground got its name. She told me that the first Englishmen in Nantahala Gorge had found Spanish miners living there. The old silver mine was near where I had parked. I asked her when the first Englishmen visited Nantahala Gorge. She said that it was probably at some time in the early 1700s or late 1600s.
In the chronicle of the Juan Pardo Expedition (1567-1569) the Spaniards claimed to have discovered silver ore on the slopes above a steep mountain gorge, south of the large Native town of Chiaha.1 Pardo garrisoned a fort at Chiaha then headed south to the Spanish colony of Santa Elena on the South Carolina coast. The garrison supposedly was massacred by Indians a few months later.
Historians and anthropologists had discounted the “silver ore story” because there were no silver ore deposits on the route for Pardo chosen in the 1990s by University of Georgia anthropology professor, Charles Hudson. It was now obvious that Chiaha was really near the confluence of the Little Tennessee and Nantahala Rivers. The Cheoah Mountains overlook that location.
Bandera, Juan de la, Relaccion de la Florida, 1569; pp. 268-269 of the Ketchum translation. ↩